Born: February 15, 1966 Primary Instrument: Piano
Dena and her trio (Martin Wind on bass and Matt Wilson on drums) have developed a hard-swinging and dynamic sound that audiences crave, and have accumulated a list of performance credits that proves it. From the legendary Blue Note, Iridium and the Jazz Standard in New York, Jazz Alley in Seattle, and the Kennedy Center in DC to Body and Soul in Tokyo and Alexander Plaz in Rome, they always deliver “….vivid and often exciting demonstrations of how innovative her musical concepts are…” (Philip Elwood, San Francisco Examiner). Dena has brought that vitality and innovation to performances alongside the likes of Ray Brown, Clark Terry, Marian McPartland, Benny Golson, Rufus Reid, Slide Hampton and many, many others, and numerous jazz festivals worldwide have had Dena on their roster, including Monterey, San Francisco and Litchfield in the U.S., the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Israel and the Ancona Festival in Italy.
As a recording artist, Dena has 5 CDs to her credit, all of which have received superior accolades. Cadence Magazine gave her both their Album of the Year and Best Vocal Jazz Album awards for “Another World” and “I Can See Clearly Now”. Christopher Louden of Jazz Times says that the MaxJazz label “… takes another big leap forward” with the release of her latest,” A Walk in the Park”. It also received three Grammy considerations.
Astoundingly, Dena has also found time to hone her skills as a jazz educator, and is on the faculty at some prestigious education venues, including the New School and Purchase College in New York, The Hartt School of Music in Connecticut and the Groningen Conservatory of Music in The Netherlands. She frequently teaches at clinics and workshops, such as the Dave Brubeck Institute, the NJPAC Jazz for Teen Program, the Stanford Jazz Workshop and several summer jazz camps. She has served as a judge at both the Thelonious Monk Competition and the NJ Star Ledger Scholarship Awards.
In 2000, Terry Teachout of the New York Times wrote, “Dena DeRose sings jazz as if she had been at it her whole life long, and then some”. He was closer to the truth than he might have imagined. Her mother heard her picking out melodies on a toy organ when she was three. She studied classical piano throughout her childhood, until she was enticed into the world of jazz by playing Count Basie’s music in her junior high stage band. At 17, she found Doug Beardsley, the only jazz teacher in hometown Binghamton, and started lessons.
By the time she went to college, the passion for jazz she now exudes was fully evident. She was performing anywhere she could, taking on private students, and practicing so many hours a day that sometimes she would sleep in her studio. To feed her insatiable jazz appetite, she would slip away from campus and drive four hours to New York City to hear piano idols Hank Jones, Mulgrew Miller and Kenny Barron.
It is a rare music career that isn’t peppered with challenges and obstacles, and Dena’s is no exception--her jazz fervor led her right into a case of carpal tunnel syndrome, aggravated by arthritis, which was severe enough to require surgery, and forced her to completely give up the piano. With her spirit and her livelihood both in jeopardy, in a club one night, someone dared her to get up and sing a song. She did it, she liked it, and so did the audience. Dena had not only found her ticket out of the physical predicament, but, two years later when she had recovered enough to add piano back into the act, she also discovered that the singing had helped her add lyricism and melody to her piano lines.
In 1991, she brought the whole package to New York. Some ten years later, having never let up in the meantime, Dena’s talent began to be widely acclaimed. In addition to the Cadence magazine awards for her recordings, she was selected by Downbeat’s Critic’s Poll as 2002’s “Artist Deserving Wider Recognition”, and All About Jazz anointed her as a Jazz Artist of the Year in 2003. She was featured on the Morning Edition program on National Public Radio, and twice on NPR’s “Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz”. As her renown spread to the international scene, feature articles and reviews on Dena were published in the New York Times, Downbeat, Jazz Times, LA Times, Seattle Times, Jazz Is, France’s Jazz Hot, Italy’s Ancona, and several others.
Now, Dena is making Don Heckman’s (LA Times) prediction come true--that she “… has all the vocal skills needed to rise to the top level of her field”. She is in demand, her passion is stronger and more visible than ever, and she consistently delights her ever-growing worldwide audiences. Alan Bargebuhr of Cadence magazine succinctly summed up the reason why... simply, she is a “… stunningly talented pianist/vocalist.”